Mar 31, 2015

A Different Kind of Album

The album, in comics parlance, is the format in which many European comics are published. Those hardcovers of Tintin, or Asterix, are albums. They're an elegant form, as far as I'm concerned, offering superior visual size and durability. I'm glad, however, that the monthly comics I collect aren't published in this format, or I'd be reading far fewer comics. The album is much closer to the North American "original graphic novel," though albums are often parts of larger serials, which our OGN's are not.

Anyway, this is a bit of writing about a different kind of album. A record album.

"What's a record album?" the youth amongst you ask.

A vinyl record, I reply. You know...those insanely expensive things they carry in trendy clothing/lifestyle stores (I'm looking at you, Urban Outfitters!). Oh, nevermind.

I have, of late, taken to pouring through old stacks of vinyl records in hope of discovering some bizarre and awesome music. It's worked wonders. Looking for some strange yet calming glitch music? I suggest Denzel + Huhn's Paraport. More in the mood for some strange Dutch psychedelic jazz-rock? Ekseption's Bingo is amazing.

Today I found Rumplestiltskin's self-titled debut album. Here's the cover:

(Sorry for the scan quality. I'll poke about for a better quality one.)

It's a comic. There's more on the back, but you get the idea. It's very odd, and involves singers and a singing giraffe, and a rotten businessman, and I haven't quite figured out if it has anything to do with the songs on the album. And to be honest, I only bought it because it's cover looks like this. It turns out that the music is early blues/prog rock from 1970, and it's really, really cool. I love when that happens.

But I think it's interesting to have a piece of comic book artwork as an album cover. Intrinsically, your audience is buying this product for the music. The cover is simply that, a cover. Why place a comic strip on it?
Further, the comic really doesn't seem to have anything to do with the music, which I think I'm going to call the main aesthetic vehicle of the piece as a whole. Thus the comic becomes a secondary aesthetic vehicle, and ostensibly one that is not simply a subset of the main aesthetic vehicle. An example of a subset of the main aesthetic vehicle would be something like the prose interjections on the liner notes of Rush's 2112, something apart from the music that comments upon, and offers elucidation, of the story of the main aesthetic vehicle. That said, scattered as it is, the comic "Rumplestiltskin" does tell what appears to be an internally self-consistent story, even if the story doesn't make a lot of sense. There are repeating characters, and continuation from scene to scene. Thus both the main and the secondary aesthetic vehicles communicate their own aesthetic...I don't know....experience, perhaps?

The combination of the two is a parallel relationship, and the import of each aesthetic experience can be gauged either separately or together, depending on the consumer of that experience.

Here's a very different example, also from my collection. This is a 12" single from Blutonium Boy and DJ Neo:

So, obviously, we have a Batman and Robin thing going on here, with Blutonium Boy taking on the Batman role, and DJ Neo the Robin role. The comic does not continue of the backside. The text is English, but only just, full of spelling and grammar errors, and seems to be a condemnation of promoters who only book "producers" from Germany, not "real DJs." But neither Blutonium Boy nor DJ Neo care, because they have their own "Blutonium Rocket."

Again, the music is obviously the main aesthetic vehicle, the comic the secondary. But the interesting question is whether or not it's a parallel aesthetic experience. The comic does indeed refer directly to the content of the primary aesthetic vehicle. But does it constitute an addition of any sort to the primary aesthetic experience? There are good arguments for both yes and no. On the yes side, one might read this comic and understand that, in some way, it seems to be a protest against the club scene of Germany in the early 2000s. Listening to the track from this perspective adds a layer to the aesthetic experience. Conversely, the dialogue could really be seen as a whiny reaction to not getting hired, and so inflect the song thus. On the no side, we could perhaps argue that the song itself, as a dance piece, does not have a narrative of its own, so to speak, or the narrative that it does have is more based around the kinesthetic experience of dancing than it is to understanding some signified, symbolic "story" to the music. And so adding the narrative element from the album cover means nothing to the enjoyment of the act of dancing to the music.

Album cover theory. Neat. I'll see how much farther I can push it with my next post. Which won't be until I find some more albums with comics covers. Stay tuned!

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